What is the NMC Bill?
The National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill 2019 is a bill that was tabled and passed in the Rajya Sabha after discussion and vote earlier this week. The Lok Sabha had already passed the bill. The legislation aims at addressing a number of concerns in the field of medical education, provide strategies to address shortage of trained doctors and medical care givers, and restructure the medical regulatory authority of the country clearly defining jurisdiction and responsibilities. According to the government, the NMC will eliminate all corruption in medical regulatory bodies. Despite these claims, the bill has drawn flak and protests from doctors across the country.
The Medical Council of India
The NMC Bill proposes to replace the Medical Council of India (MCI) which has been accused of corruption on many occasions with a new regulatory body. According to the bill, the new regulatory body will be set up under the chairmanship of a government nominated individual and the members too will be appointed by a committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) and doctors across the country fear that this will make the regulatory body a government controlled one instead of a democratically elected one. The needs of the people across the country will not be addressed if this comes to pass, they say.
Merging Alternative Treatment Forms with Allopathy
In its present form, the NMC allows non-allopathic medical practitioners to hand out prescriptions of allopathic drugs if they have cleared a “bridge course”. Critics liken this to a “back door entry” for quacks into the medical profession.
Surprisingly, this provision has attracted criticism from homeopathic doctors and practitioners of traditional medicine as well. They believe that their own forms of treatment may be in danger of dying away if the bill is implemented. It will encourage patients across the country to seek out doctors practicing a combination instead of seeking holistic and herbal treatment forms. They also claim that this absolves the government of all responsibility towards promoting traditional treatment methods.
Another disadvantage of such combined practitioners is that the homeopaths and ayurvedic practitioners will require to be registered with the new regulatory body or the medical commission apart from their respective councils. Such dual registration is prohibited by the MCI.
The government, on the other hand, claims that this is a necessary provision which will address the acute shortage of allopathic doctors, nurses, and trained medical practitioners across the country.
NMC on Medical Education
Medical education is one area that shall be greatly altered if the NMC Bill is passed. The “Bridge course” suggested by the bill will allow homeopaths and Ayurveda practitioners to prescribe a limited range of allopathic drugs while clearly specifying the symptoms, diagnosis, and circumstances of issuing such a prescription. Their sign boards and prescription pads will also clearly mention that the treatment system they are trained in and indicate the clearance to prescribe the said drugs. What the bill overlooks, however, is the widespread exploitation of patients, particularly the poor and illiterate. Medical abuse will be rampant if the bill is passed, fear critics.
The NMC bill also reiterates the need for a common unified entrance exam (NEET) across the country for students to gain admission into MBBS courses, doing away with various state specific medical entrance exams. This has been at the centre of much debate as students from states like Tamil Nadu have been protesting against the compulsory imposition of NEET. The majority of the medical fraternity, however, endorses this move.
Section 15 of the NMC Bill further says that it will be mandatory for medical students to take a licentiate examination after gaining the MBBS degree. If the student fails to clear this examination, he or she will not be enrolled in the National Medical register and will not be permitted to practice medicine.
The Standing Committee
The MNC Bill in its earlier form was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee by the Lok Sabha after some 2.9 lakh doctors of the country had threatened to go on a 12 hour long strike protesting it. The Chairperson of the standing committee was asked to present its recommendations before the lower house of the parliament.
At the time of moving the Bill in parliament, the new Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan informed that 40 of the 56 recommendations made by the parliamentary panel were fully accepted. Nine points were rejected, while seven were partially accepted.
The minister has also tried to allay the apprehensions of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and doctors. He has termed the legislation as “pro-poor” saying it would bring not only government seats but also 50 per cent of all private seats within the reach of meritorious students belonging to the economically weaker sections.